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After ugly loss to Saints, Redskins face crucial week ahead

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Gruden blames himself for blowout loss against Saints (0:59)

Jay Gruden takes the blame for the Redskins' blowout loss against the Saints on Monday Night Football. (0:59)

NEW ORLEANS -- The Washington Redskins went into their Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints with good vibes and an upbeat attitude. There was a quiet confidence.

They exited the 43-19 loss to New Orleans in silence, with a much different vibe, one that suggests this week and their next game against Carolina has turned into a crucial one for the franchise.

"Our whole team played poorly," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "That's a reflection of myself. I think everybody in that locker room, hopefully, will say that they have to play better. I absolutely understand that coaches on this staff have to coach better."

It's not just about winning and contending in an NFC East that doesn't look quite as tough as everyone thought it would be this season. At 2-2, the Redskins are in first place in the division, but with 12 games left, that's meaningless. It's about letting everyone know what's acceptable. And their showing was anything but, coming off a bye, this is what they produced. It's about continuing patterns for way too long for a starved fan base. Win games, get hopes up, suffer ugly loss.

It's hard to imagine or remember a worse loss in the coach Jay Gruden era; not just by margin of victory, but for the team's utter incompetence. They botched coverages -- this continues a trend that shows no signs of ending -- that led to two pass plays of at least 46 yards. They didn't even throw to their best target, tight end Jordan Reed, until 5 minutes, 27 seconds remained in the third quarter. They committed dumb penalties -- safety Montae Nicholson shoved a Saints player after a Ryan Kerrigan sack that would have forced a punt. Instead, it extended a drive that resulted in a touchdown.

After the drive, second-year defensive end Jonathan Allen was apparently getting on his teammates, letting him know their play was unacceptable. It's great that a second-year guy did this; there needs to be a lot more of it from everyone in the organization, from coaches on down. If there aren't enough players and coaches tired of the inconsistency, the breakdowns and losses will continue.

Quarterback Alex Smith was shaky all night, getting hit too often and not looking comfortable when he wasn't being pressured. He missed open targets; he threw short of others. The coaching clearly wasn't good enough, either. On a night when Drew Brees set the all-time record for passing yards, the Redskins were outclassed in every respect.

It doesn't help the Redskins fan base that former quarterback Kirk Cousins has played well for Minnesota and former offensive coordinator Sean McVay is 5-0 with the Los Angeles Rams.

Meanwhile, cornerback Josh Norman -- the highest paid player at his position -- was benched to open the second half. Norman allowed a touchdown pass of 62 yards late in the first half when he appeared to be playing Cover 2 while the other defensive backs were in Cover 3, which would have had him covering deep. Two weeks ago against Green Bay, Norman did not play a quarters coverage properly, leading to another long score.

Monday, Norman was on the bench for the first series -- only to watch rookie replacement Greg Stroman allow a 35-yard touchdown pass.

"There was an issue there," Gruden said of Norman's play late in the first half. "That's one of the issues we're talking about and that's something that we have to get corrected. That can't happen in pro football. You don't see that happen in pro football. We're together too long. We run the same coverage for too many times. We've got to coach that better. We've got to make sure that never happens again. That's an absolute embarrassment."

Norman said, "Coverage, man. We was blowing it all night. ... As a fiery competitor you never want to come off, but whatever. I'll roll with that because that's the chain of command. He's in charge. ... End of the day I respect the head man and I've got to honor that and truly buy into what he wants."

The Redskins finished the first quarter of the season with a 2-2 record. In this league, what looks true one week doesn't always play out that way the next. The Redskins lost 44-16 in 2015 to Carolina only to win the following week -- and eventually capture the NFC East. But it'll be hard to shake the stink from this one; it's probably good the Redskins have a short week.

The Redskins are 14-6-1 after a loss under Gruden. Washington has been resilient under him and that trait must reveal itself once more.

"It's on to the next," Redskins running back Adrian Peterson said. "This game doesn't define our season. We just completed our first quarter of the season 2-2. It's not bad at all. We'll lick our wounds. ... This is part of the NFL. It's all about how you bounce back from adversity."